Mapping “Information Wanted”; African -American Migrations During the Post Civil War Period

The Christian Recorder is the weekly periodical of the African Methodist Episcopal Church. It was one of the most popular periodicals read by African American’s during the nineteenth century, and had a national readership. The periodical was published in Philadelphia, but contributing correspondents were located as far west as San Francisco, as far north as Canada, and as far south as Texas. There were nearly 500 subscribers, yet readership was much more significant as many of the subscribers were churches and other organization’s that allowed for sharing and mass readership of the periodical. Through this periodical, the church was able to disperse a distinct African-American culture, centered in Philadelphia, across the nation.


Near the conclusion of the civil war, the periodical published “Information Wanted” ads. Advertisers would post these ads in an attempt to find family and friends they were separated from one another due to slavery. Each ad usually had some standard information; the name of the missing person (searchee), where the searchee was from, where the searchee was last seen (City, County, State), the advertisers name, the advertisers relationship to the searchee, and the advertisers location (city, county, state). Our summer 2014 Digital History course complied data from each individual ad that was published between 1864-1869, and recorded the data into a shared excel spreadsheet that was to be used by each student to  create an individual digital project.


As the data we have collected exists in the form of a spreadsheet, its difficult to imagine the data as representing actual people searching for lost friends and family. Thus, while looking for a potential digital project, I wanted to find something that would allow the advertisers and the searchee’s to be represented physically. I decided on making a series of maps that would allow for me to demonstrate where both the advertisers and searchee’s on a map, and also enable broader conclusions to be drawn, by both myself and the reader, about the movement of African-Americans northward after the conclusion of the civil war.


Before making the maps, I first had select a mapping program that would fulfill the goals described above. Ideally, the mapping program would allow for the data to be displayed on a map that is georeferenced, allowing for the searchee’s and advertisers to be placed on the map that was in alignment with the locations listed in the data. A program that would allow for a georeferenced map from the time period under investigation, 1864-1869, would be even more ideal. Yet georeferenced maps, such as Google maps, don’t exist for this period under investigation. The majority of the maps needed to input data are from the current day, and therefore don’t align with maps from 1864-1869. Using a program that would allow for layering of maps from the period under investigation over georeferenced maps proved to be extremely time-consuming, and much to expansive for a project such as this. Rather, I opted just to present the data on a map provided by Google Fusion Tables which allows me to place the data collected onto current Google maps. This will still allow for the physical location of where the advertisers and searchee’s to be viewed on a physical map rather than as data. This also allows for me to create maps from the entire period under investigation rather than just one year, allowing for more conclusions about the data that’s been gathered by our course to be drawn. In order to make up for not being able to create maps using the geographical boundaries of the time period, I have included a map below from the civil war period that outlines the states where slavery was legal.


After selecting the mapping program I wanted to use, I then had to decide what data that collected from the “Information Wanted” ads that I wanted to use to build my maps.  As stated above, I planned to take data from each year for both searchee’s and advertisers. Since the advertisers have a concrete location where they can be contacted, selecting which data entry to use for the advertisers fairly straightforward. I decided to select the advertiser’s listed city, as it was the most common data column for placing the advertiser in a geographical location. For the searchee’s, I decided to use the city they were last seen in. As the searchee is missing, it’s difficult to place an exact location on where they were. Yet the last seen location can give a general idea of where the person being sought was last located, even if they were already separated from their family at this point. Cities were the most cited category and are much more accurate than just the state, so I opted to use the city to locate the missing searchee’s as well.


This method may leave some certain searchee’s and advertisers out, as they may not have listed a city and instead listed a state or county. But I feel, after having looked at the entire spreadsheet that is attached below, that choosing the city last seen and listed city for the advertiser is the most effective way to include as many of the individual advertisers and searchee’s as possible. In order to extract this data, I had to select copy the data from each row I intended to use into six separate spread sheets I created for each year, and then imported each spreadsheet separately into the Google Fusion Tables to create a map. I choose to use fixed markers instead of heat maps, as it allows for a better representation of individuals to be seen in each map.


Below is a map of Slave states that will be useful when looking at the maps that follow. Orange states were slave states, yellow states are free states.



The first year of ads that our class compiled data for was small, in terms of the number of ads posted, in comparison to the other years we covered. The searchee’s, shown in the map below, were almost evenly listed in both southern and northern states. This shows that people in both northern and southern states had been separated from family and friends, yet its difficult to tell what this means without comparing this years ads to other years.

1864 Searchee map

1864 Searchee map


The advertisers from 1864 were all located in northern states and one was even located in the United Kingdom (map below). The biggest take from this year is the broad readership of The Christian Recorder. Not only were there readers throughout the United States, but also abroad.

1863 Adversities Map

1863 Adversities Map


The year 1865 had a significantly higher amount of ads posted in The Christian Recorder. Ten of the seventeen cities where the searchee’s were last seen were located in slave or former slave states. The cluster of searchee’s last seen in Virginia represents the highest concentration of ads. As the ads numbers grew, so did the national scale, as the last seen locations now go as far south and west as Texas, and as far north as Minnesota.


1865 Searchee Map

1865 Searchee Map

Unlike the searchee’s, the advertisers were located in northern states that do not allow slavery by a large majority. A lot of the advertisers are located near large cities, trading hubs, or manufacturing centers, which appears to demonstrate the beginnings of the whats known as the Great Migration, that is African-Americans moving into urban centers in the north.


1865 Advertiser Map

1865 Advertiser Map


The searchee map from 1866 holds true to the trend from 1865; a majority of the missing people were last known to be in cities in the southern or middle slave states. By this year slavery had been abolished across the re-united country, yet the many of the missing persons had been gone for quite some time, when slavery was still a legal institution in these areas.

1866 Searchee Map

1866 Searchee Map


The advertisers in 1866 have made a visible shift to northeast. While there are some new outliers to the west in Illinois, Oregon, California, and Arizona, there is a noticeable move away from the southeast.


1866 Advertiser Map

1866 Advertiser Map


The searchee’s in 1867 are again mainly located in the southern states and former Border States by a fairly large majority. The overall numbers of searchee’s has gone down from 1866, but they still cover a large geographic area.

1867 Searchee Map

1867 Searchee Map


In 1867 the advertisers continue to move further north and east, concentrating in the area of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Ohio.


1867 Advertiser Map

1867 Advertiser Map


In 1868, the trend of the majority of the missing persons last seen location being in the southern, former slave states, continues.

1868 Searchee Map

1868 Searchee Map

The advertiser map for 1868 can appear to be a little deceiving, as many of the dots are in the border state of Maryland. But when looking at the heat map, posted below, its much more clear where the majority of the ad’s were located, in the general area Philadelphia and New York, further reinforcing the trend of advertisers concentrating in free, northern states.

1868 Advertiser Map

1868 Advertiser Map

1868 Advertiser Heat Map

1868 Advertiser Heat Map


The year 1869 had a small number of ads, and the searchee’s appear to be distributed in Northeast. This year appears to be more of an outlier due to the small number of ads.

1869 Searchee Map

1869 Searchee Map

The 1869 advertisers, like those perviously, are focused in the northeast, yet their isn’t a huge sample size to draw from.

1869 Advertiser Map

1869 Advertiser Map



There are several main conclusions that can be drawn from the maps that are presented above. First, and most important as it adds to the significance of this project, is the fact that The Christian Recorder truly had a national, and even international, readership. “Information Wanted” ads were posted from the United Kingdom, Canada, and as far west as California and Oregon. This shows that not only readers were located all over the United States, but the general population of African-Americans was also dispersed across nearly the entire country. The fact that people posted the ads in an attempt to find lost family members in far away geographic regions suggests that the periodical was widely read, and that advertisers truly believe they had a chance at finding missing family members. The readers of the periodical were participating in the constriction of a distinct African-American culture that was based in Philadelphia, but also had influences from across the United States.


The maps also seem to show the beginnings of what would be a much more popular trend, that is the migration of African-Americans from the southern states to the northeast where jobs were readily available and the lingering effects of slavery were less oppressive. The searchee’s were more often than not last seen in former slave states in the south. Yet as the war ended and the 1860’s progressed, advertisers continued to be concentrated further north and east, with Ohio, Illinois, and Michigan also showing growth (as these areas were burgeoning economic and manufacturing centers as the country expanded west). These advertisers were moving north, without their loved ones, in search of a better life. They were, however, still wanting to reconnect with their loved ones. These advertisers were able to escape the perils of slavery, and were, in the majority, living in free northern states. This trend continued to increase as the ads continued to be published.


This project, while tracing the movement of slaves northward, isn’t all-encompassing. Rather, this information was presented in a way that will provoke questions from the reader, and hopefully promote further research. Due to the short length of our course, it was not possible to investigate individual’s lives and draw conclusions based upon individual cases, while also creating maps, though that may be a topic ripe for future research, though filling in their personal lives to match the trends displayed in the maps may prove rewarding.


Below is attached the entire data spreadsheet from which I drew the data to create the maps above: July_2014_Christian_Recorder_Ads

Digging Into Data: African American Education and Self-perceptions in Postbellum America

Going through the data compiled from the “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder, I wanted to explore the hidden messages behind a wealth of variables and numbers. Having investigated the history of African American Education before and after the antebellum period in my digital article, I narrowed down the research topic as to the possible positive correlation between the increasing number of advertisers and the expanding of schools for African Americans after the end of the Civil War.

According to a timeline made by University of Michigan for the education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007, only 10% of African Americans had the basic reading and writing skills in 1865, while the literacy rate of this ethnic group increased to 19%  in 1870. Compared to white Americans whose literacy rate amounted to 92.5% in 1870, African Americans still lagged far behind. Nevertheless, given the staggering number of illiterates, they made great strides in education, almost doubling the literacy rate within 5 years after the end of the Civil War. After a preliminary review of the 700-cell Excel spreadsheet transcribed by the class, I found that there are concurrent trends between the growing number of people who placed the “Information Wanted” ads in the Christian Recorder and the rising number of black schools among the locations of these advertisers from 1863 to 1869. The coincidence of these upward trends piqued my curiosity. Therefore, in this project I decided to uncover several factors that might explain this coincidence.

Descriptions of Primary Source 

The Christian Recorder, the oldest existing black periodical in America, has been fervently provided a voice for the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) and black Americans since its first publication in July 1, 1852. Although it focused on religious news, it also addressed various secular issues about the black community, especially about family reunion, justice, equal rights, and education. For example, The Christian Recorder held an exclusive section dedicated for posting “Information Wanted” ads , from which African Americans could request information about the whereabouts of their missing loved family members by paying a small amount of money.

The Christian Recorder, April 28, 1866 issue.

The Christian Recorder, April 28, 1866 issue.

In Digital History Summer 2014 class at Villanova University , the class collaborated with the instructor, Ms. Deborah Boyer, to garner data from the “Information Wanted” ads in The Christian Recorder (covering periodical issues from December 26, 1863 to June 12, 1869). This project was quite impressive: we organized target information and placed data into an Excel spreadsheet. This grand Excel spreadsheet became my primary database: it has 700 columns (values) and 42 rows (valuables).

Research Methodology

  • Selecting Databases.To examine relationships between the number of advertisers to The Christian Recorder and the growth of black schools, I decided to use 3 databases for my project. They are: 1 ) the Excel spreadsheet containing data transcribed from “Information Wanted” Ads in The Christian Recorder; 2) List of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU);  and, 3) A Timeline for the Education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007.
  • Selecting Mapping Tools. I used Google Maps Engine Pro to create two maps: Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans from 1800 to 1864  and  Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans from 1865 to 1870.
  • Organizing Data. 
  • 1) Time Scope: the first map includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865; the second map includes ads from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869. As it is widely accepted, the end of the Civil War is marked by the date of April 9, 1865. On that day, Confederate General Robert.E. Lee surrendered his troops to Ulysses Grant at the Appomattox court house in Virginia. 
  • 2) Valuables Selection: Since I focused on the  locations of the advertisers, I only selected 10 valuables: Item_Number, Year, Date, Advertiser_ Full Name (I merged Advertiser’s first name, middle name, and last time into one column), Advertiser_Gender, Advertiser_Address, Advertiser_City, Advertiser_County, Advertiser_State, and Advertiser_Country. More importantly, I did not select the advertisers’ mailing addresses because sometimes they were different from the home addresses, and it would lead to misleading information when visualizing data.
  • 3): Paring Down Invalid Information: I first deleted all rows related to the same advertiser who placed ads several times. For example, Mary Dickerson placed ads to look for her 4 sons and 1 daughter (in the original Excel spreadsheet, it had 5 rows related to Mary Dickerson). However, it is redundant to map Mary Dickerson’s address 5 times. I then deleted any rows that did not specify advertisers’ states (except a few advertisers who lived in West Canada or Canada). For example, in Item_Number 72081, Fannie Robinson had no information about her address, city, state and country, so I deleted the entire row. To sum up, I whittled down data and had two separate new Excel Spreadsheets in good shape: “Wartime Advertisers” has 10 rows, 8 columns; “Postwar Advertisers” has 10 rows, 141 columns.
  • 4) Combining other Databases: I transcribed information from  List of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU); and A Timeline for the Education of African Americans in the United States: 1600-2007 to two separate Excel Spreadsheets: Black Schools established between 1800 and 1864, and Black Schools established between 1865 and 1870.


I envision that the advertisers’ geographic distribution might reflect the progress in literacy and positive self-perceptions within African American community during the late 19th century. To prove this hypothesis, I aimed to find out answers to the following questions: what are the demographics of the advertisers during the wartime and the postbellum period? What does the disparity of number of advertisers and schools indicate? Since The Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia, how did advertisers who lived outside of Pennsylvania hear about this periodical? Were there any Churches or facilities existent  in the African American community that help them contact The Christian Recorder?

The following are two maps that show African American men and women who placed “Information Wanted” advertisements in The Christian Recorder between December 1863 to June 1869; and the African American schools established between 1800 and 1870.

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1800 and 1864

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African American built from 1800 to 1864   Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Wartime Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1800 and 1864 Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1865 and 1870

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African American built from 1865 to 1870  Copy Right: Shasha He

Map of Postwar Advertisers and Schools for African Americans established between 1865 to 1870 Copy Right: Shasha He

As shown from the above two maps, I made two bold arguments.

Argument 1: The growing number of advertisers in the postbellum period (after April 9, 1865) reflects more African Americans had access to The Christian Recorder; More importantly, to request information about their missing  loved ones, the advertisers may have basic literacy skills like clarifying names, locations, and backgrounds through either writing or oral forms (told editors, priests, staff at The Christian Recorder, and so on).

Regarding the number of advertisers and schools, they both show trends on the upswing. Between December 1863 and February 1865, a span of 1.2 years, only 8 advertisers with clear-cut home addresses (at least include the information of state) appeared in the data set. In stark contrast, between April 1865 to June 1869, a span of 4.2 years, there are altogether 142 advertisers with determinable residence addresses. That is to say, the number of registered advertisers increased 17.6 times by the first half of 1869. As for the number of schools, between 1800 and 1864, a span of 64 years, only 15 schools with determinable information established for black Africans. After the end of the Civil War, schools for African Americans started to sprout. Between 1865 to 1870, a span of 5 years, 27 listed schools were established for African Americans.

With this in mind, I argue that the growing number of advertisers between 1865 and 1869 may suggest more African Americans grasped the basic literacy skills. During the antebellum period, the slave states strictly restricted back slaves’ education.By the end of the 1830’s most Southern states has passed laws banning teaching reading and writing to African Americans. Whatever education a black African received during the antebellum period was probably the result of occasional instruction by a benevolent slave master or other individual groups. The nearest resemblance to formal education did not begin until the first decades of the 18th century, when a handful of public-spirited churchmen and pioneer educators such as Anthony Benezet established small schools for black freemen in cities such as New York, Philadelphia. From the first map, I found that  from 1800 to 1864, the majority of schools for black Africans were in Pennsylvania. While as the second map showed, between 1865 and 1870, the most traditional slave states including South Carolina (6), North Carolina (5), Mississippi (3), Louisiana (2), Georgia (2), and Alabama (2) established schools for African Americans (the numbers stand for the number of schools) .

The Slaves States and Free States in 1861  Map taken from wiki

The Slaves States and Free States in 1861 Map taken from wiki

Under this circumstance, two possibilities might exist: with more African Americans receiving education, the media such as newspapers, periodicals, and newsletters began reaching out to the African American community. Moreover, when requesting information of their beloved relatives, the advertisers may at least 1) heard about the Christian Recorder; and 2) they were able to either write down or narrate information to the Christian Recorder. If these two possibilities hold truth, a positive correction between the number of advertisers and literacy rate of African Americans in the late 19th century would have supportive evidence. However, to further support my argument, I need to examine other contributing factors such as the total number of African American population in each state, the teaching qualities, and so forth.

Argument 2: The act of placing ads indicates advertisers actively identified and turned to sources of interpersonal support in and outside of the African American community.

The influx of advertisers after the Civil War can also suggest three aspects: 1) African Americans started to searched for sources of support; 2) advertisers consciously knew that they wanted to “reconstruct” their family and life by looking for their lost relatives. In other words, their self-perceptions of themselves and the postwar America were enhanced; and 3) more institutions/ groups/ individuals were willing to help African Americans. Noticeable examples are that many advertisers registered mailing addresses when placing the ads. Many mailing addresses were entirely different from their residence addresses, indicating that someone were willing to notify the advertisers the updated information about their lost relatives.

Regarding the geographical information, I found that during the wartime (December 1863-February 1865), the few advertisers lived in free states. The sole exception, Rachel Shepherd, lived in Portsmouth, Virginia. This place was under the control of Union States in 1862, however. From the second map, I saw a greater geographical diversity among the advertisers. Because the Christian Recorder was printed in Philadelphia, the majority of advertisers still lived with Northern states. However, I also saw advertisers writing from former Confederate States, including North Carolina (6), Louisiana (4), Georgia (3), Virginia (10), Tennessee (1), Florida (1), and Mississippi (1). Furthermore, there were advertisers writing from even California or Canada, far away from Philadelphia (the numbers after each state stand for the number of advertisers).

Map of Union States and Confederate States before and during the Civil War

Map of Union States and Confederate States before and during the Civil War

These findings lead to a series of new questions: why so many African Americans came to Pennsylvania? Similarly, why so many former slaves ended up in the Midwest while others migrated to California or even Canada? How did the people who lived far from Pennsylvania hear about  the Christian Recorder? Or, does the spread of A.M.E explain the popularity of The Christian Recorder? Unfortunately, the Information Wanted ads do not reveal such information. Therefore, further research should be done in order to provide in-depth answers to these questions.

Further Research 

Since Google Maps Engine Pro couldn’t help me the figure out all of the hidden messages in the “Information Wanted” Ads, I decided to combine other visualization tools.

As for further exploring the possible correlations between the increasing number of advertisers and the progress in literacy and positive self-perceptions within African American community, I think text mining is the another feasible solution. In this project, I used Wordle to do the text mining and analysis of the “Information Wanted” Ads.

  • Databased and Data Organization

The primary database is still the Excel spreadsheet containing data transcribed from “Information Wanted” Ads in The Christian Recorder (covering periodical issues from December 26, 1863 to June 12, 1869). As for the time scope, I did the same thing with the previous research: the first text mining includes ads from December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865; the second text mining includes ads from April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869. In this part of research, I focused on “text” instead of “geographics”. Therefore, the valuables that I selected were Advertiser Relationship to Searchee, Searchee Relationship to Advertiser, and Reason for Separation. I did not include “Notes” because they contain many names of either the advertisers or the searchees, which would be irrelevant to the text analysis.

  • Text Visualization and Analysis 

For the text mining related to the wartime ads (December 26, 1863 to February 25, 1865), here is the text visualization:

Wordle: Wartime Text Mining for the Information Wanted Ads

For the text mining related to the postwar period ads (April 29, 1865 to June 12, 1869), here is the text visualization:

Wordle: Text Mining and Analysis related to the postward ads from the Christian Recorder

During the wartime period, the primary concern behind a family disruption was “Military Service”, which is understandable. During the postwar period, words that dominated the “Information Wanted” Ads were “owner”, “owned”, “belonged”, and “sold”. The two text visualizations suggest that almost 5 years after the end of the Civil War, the advertisers still had negative self-perceptions: they kept unconsciously reminding themselves of their slavery past.


Through using Google Maps Engine Pro and Wordle, I attempted to explore possible positive correlation between the increasing number of advertisers (spread all over the United States) and the rising literacy rate and enhanced self-esteem within the African American community. Through these project, I realized that by using only single tool, such as mapping tool, is unlikely to accomplish a satisfactory historical project. Many questions left unsolved, yet new questions keep popping up. The optimal way is to resourcefully combing various digital tools such as digital storytelling, mapping, GIS, timeline, text mining and so on.

The Years that Count: Analyzing Years of Separation in “The Christian Recorder” ‘Information Wanted’ Ads

Courtesy of Accessible Archives

Courtesy of Accessible Archives


The Christian Recorder is arguably one of the best sources documenting African-American History from the Civil War Era. A weekly periodical published in Philadelphia by the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), brought religious news and current events to the African-American communities throughout both the North and South in the Civil War and Reconstruction Era. Aside from the articles, one its most valuable resources at the time of its publication and today for historians, was the “Information Wanted” section. From 1861 (the paper was technically founded in 1854, yet had a short-lived run in publication) to 1902, almost each issue features various ads placed by African-Americans throughout the country who were seeking missing loved ones after the war and Emancipation. Some of the ads placed contain every minutia of information that would have been helpful to locate a loved one from their location of origin, location last seen, length of separation and even specifics dealing with the former lives of their loved ones. Other unfortunately for historians, had the very basics necessary: name of person(s) and person(s) of contact. While the information featured in The Christian Recorder can be drawn out and transcribed into data, it poses a devastating portrait of 600 + families who had been torn apart in the chaotic war. One of the most basic piece of information that is also one of the most haunting, is the compilation of years of separation that appears in the ads. Unfortunately, many of the ads are missing vital information that could have helped some families locate in a more efficient matter. However; there is enough information presented in the ads to at least create an accurate representation of the clientele using The Christian Recorder. Not all of those who placed ads included years that their loved ones were missing or their reason for be separated, but those who did can give me us an interesting snapshot into the chaos during and after the Civil War for African-American families trying to reconnect and live as a free and whole family.


Years of Separation

After reviewing our class compilation of “Information Wanted” Ads, the column for years of separation was something that stuck out for me, especially as I wanted to to try and visually capture a different narrative on family and the emotions of searching for loved ones. Numbers can be challenging though in terms of representing emotions, especially staring at the reader from a spreadsheet.  My goal then, was to create a visual that would help people not only quickly process the information, but hopefully touch them as well. For starters, out of the 686 ads placed in The Christian Recorder from 1861- 1869, only 256 listed the years of separation. Therefore; the sample size for a visual was going to appear small since it was less than half.


While the sample size is small though, the visual it produces can provide a lot of information for the time period when compared to the original spreadsheet and the dates of the ads placed. Below is the bar graph based on the sample size of those who provided the separation length in their ads and the frequency in which they appear. While the below graph may only represent a 37% chunk of those who placed in ads over the time between 1861 and 1869, there was enough information to create a somewhat startling visual.

Untitled 2

The bar graph is  great because it allows historians to determine length of separation while also connecting reason for separation. Again, many of the entries are incomplete and the reasons for separation do not always match up with an entry that provided length of separation, however; we can make many inferences for those that are incomplete, as well as rely on the ads that are complete; providing both reason and length of separation. For instance, as seen above in the graph, one of the most frequently published separation length mentioned in the ads was 4 years. 4 years would make the most sense in the time period of the ads: 1861-1869 because almost 25 entries related the years of separation to military service either by voluntary service, or in some instances forced services. It would make sense considering that many emancipated African-Americans were migrating north with what was left of their families, forcing them to leave they male family members behind. Coming in close to the frequency of the 4 year length , are some multi-decade numbers: 15, 20, etc… While 25 separations were due to military service, approximately 160 + were due to slavery and being sold away from  the family before the war. The next runner-up is 23 entries citing 16 years of separation, followed by 22 entries citing 10 years of separation. For those who listed their cause of separation , these typically link to slavery and the loved one being sold or taken in the wanted ads themselves . It is amazing to see that in the years during and after the war, the families were still hoping to be reunited with loved ones. Some, as the graph shows, were separated for 40 years and one for 45! It must have been so devastating to continue the search for a family member who had been missing for multiple decades. Again, in researching this and compiling the data the numbers become the feature. However; after you look at the numbers and the visuals, one needs to remember that the 40 is 40 years without that loved one, not mere digits. In the aftermath of war and in the promise of freedom, there is still this creative hope  and notion of fidelity that by using The Christian Recorder as an advocate and voice, that there could still be a chance . What surprised me as I compiled the information was the relative low number of people who reported loved ones missing for 1,2,3 years before the significant increase of loved ones being lost for 4 years. i expected many more in the single digit numbers because of length of war-time service and knowing that some southern towns were emancipated late in the war. The Union army, most likely taking what they could get towards the end of the war, it seems that more men would have been drafted and boosted the frequency of 1,2,3 year separations. Almost as emotional as the numbers in the years frequency, are some of the reasons listed for separation in the ads. Again, many are due to military service, but most are attributed to slavery. All the various reasons listed in the ads can seen and analyzed in the visual below.

Wordle: Christian Recorder Ads





As stated before, I chose the topic above because there was something so interesting and yet so haunting about the numbers. In the spreadsheet, it stares back at you as numbers in a  formula. However; once i created the bar graph and could get a comparative visual, it turned into something else for me entirely. I knew from the get go that I wanted to use charts and graphs because they would make an impact as visuals. As simple as it seems, the charts and graphs were made using Numbers by Apple. I made a separate spreadsheet with the information that i needed and picked and chose the different visuals that I wanted it to correspond with and the particulars that i thought would best make the information pop in the most concise way. I wasn’t initially going to add the Wordle, but as I was going through and extracting the information, I felt I would be doing disservice to the bigger picture. Because of the time period I myself after just crunching the numbers and creating the visuals, figured most separation years between 1-8 or 9 years would be due to military service. If not military service, then possible contraband camps, basically any event that was tied to the war or emancipation. As I scrolled through the data, I kept seeing over and over again “sold”, “sold by owner”, “advertisee sold”, “advertiser sold” and even “taken”. It was devastating to see that even after the war and emancipation, the majority of people who appealed to The Christian Recorder for advocacy, were still searching for loved ones who were casualties of the terror of the slave trade and southern slavocracy. While for this article i merely compiled the data, anyone with a deep interest in the Civil War or American slavery, could take this project to a much deeper level. Afterwards, it left me wondering about the narratives of these people. Who were they? Did they find their loved ones? Were their families successful? A project that could culminate from this articles could be a biography of any of the people mentioned in the advertisements, or the advertisers themselves. it would be fascinating to find about their lives as slaves, their migration to the north, or even their connection to The Christian Recorder. I’d also be interested in a compilation of success statistics based on the ads featured in The Christian Recorder, and the families who placed them.


Reconstruction Amendments: Rebuilding America’s Free Black Community

The passage and ratification of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution, also known as the Reconstruction amendments were the first sutures designed to sew together the wounds left by the years of fighting on the battlefield and home-font during the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865. The amendments, by ending slavery, enfranchising and enterprising newly freed blacks, and establishing new and stronger federalism, respectively, left many to wonder what the next chapters of American federalism, economy, and freedom would bring. With Federal troops stationed throughout the South immediately following the war and later to enforce this new moral and legal code of equality, blacks, namely former slaves, began to claim a new lifestyle of citizenship in the land where they had previously been enslaved. For these individuals, the first step in creating a new life in freedom was the reconnection and re-cultivation of social networks destroyed by slavery and war.   Slaves were constantly moved away from federal troop advances or raids to discourage runaways.  This, compounded with the ever present break up of families by the sale of slaves (especially during the economic depression faced by the South during the latter portions of the war) spread these friend and familial networks across the country.

Some Social and familial networks were more easily repaired as the individuals were not separated over great distances. Many slaves became “contrabands of war “ as they ran away to refugee camps run by the Union Army and thus remained in nearby environs. Others were sold away and taken great distances still others joined and traveled with the Union Army. These networks that were torn asunder by conflict or other tragic circumstances required other means to restore communities that would help freed slaves in the post-war, reconstruction period. Factors like literacy, access to money, and larger communities all played into one’s ability to connect to greater networks of individuals in the hope of reconnecting with friends and loved ones. Many former slaves placed missing persons ads in newspapers read in black communities across the United States and Canada. One example of a newspaper that carried several hundred of these missing persons ads both during and after the war is the Christian Recorder, published in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. These ads, often placed by one or two individuals would give information based on the missing person or persons last known location, full name, known nicknames, their familial or friendship ties, how the person placing the ad could be reached, their address, and the location from where the ad was being published. This variety of information meant that any of a number of individuals could read or come across this information and communicate any part or segment to any of the parties listed in hopes of reestablishing a connection. It was also common to see ads posted by church groups or by other individuals on behalf of another person, who perhaps did not have the means or literacy to post the ad.

The 700 wanted ads from the Christian Recorder compiled during Villanova University’s Graduate Digital History Practicum offer innumerable research opportunities to historians interested in the Civil War, Reconstruction, Gender studies, African-American history, as well as other fields like Geography and Politics. For my project, I wanted to test the data to see if there was a significant connection between the ratification dates of the first two Reconstruction amendments: the Thirteenth and Fourteenth and a rise in the placement of ads from the states where the amendments had recently been ratified. More specifically, I looked at border and Southern or (formerly) Confederate states and the dates they ratified and adopted each amendment. The hypothesis being: if there was a marked uptick in the amount of ads submitted during this time period it could be deduced that free blacks, more specifically, individuals looking to rebuild social networks, and even more specifically, individuals posting ads in the Christian Recorder felt more comfortable doing so after the amendments were adopted by Southern and border states who otherwise would not assume these protections on their own at the state and local level. Through examining and data-basing 700 wanted ads placed in the Christian Recorder between 1863 and 1869 the following information was gathered:

Below are two timelines, created with the online tool dipity. The first timeline tracks every state’s ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. The Thirteenth Amendment, which was highly contested in the House of Representatives, was passed on January 31, 1865 by that body, certifying its passage and subsequently sending it to the states for ratification. The amendment made slavery illegal in the United States and was a political and military goal of both Radical Republicans and Abraham Lincoln. That is, both wanted to see the amendment passed before the imminent surrender of the South, who would rejoin the Union and the House of Representatives and veto any attempt at the passage of a freedom bill.

Thirteenth Amendment Timeline

The second timeline tracks the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment was a response to the almost immediate resubjugation of recently freed slaves in the South to Black Codes passed in many former-Confederate states. These laws sought to install a system of white supremacy and non-citizenship for blacks. Though Congress attempted to act through the passage of a Civil Rights Act in 1866, it quickly became clear that an amendment enfranchising blacks, granting full citizenship to freed slaves would be necessary. The amendment was adopted July 9, 1868 with little support from Southern states. Later Congress would stipulate that ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment would be required for congressional representatives from former-Confederate states to be readmitted to Congress. The timeline shows both border and Southern states and the time it took to ratify the amendment, even after adoption. One can infer the bitterness with which this amendment was accepted by the Southern states with full ratification taking fully four years.

*Both Timelines exclude extreme outliers like Mississippi or New Jersey who rejected and failed to re-certify the 13th and 14th Amendments, respectively

Fourteenth Amendment Timeline

After establishing a timeline for both amendments two maps were created using the Google map creation tool. The first map looks at ads placed during the timeline representation of the Thirteenth Amendment. More specifically, it looks at ads placed within this time period from individuals reporting their address within border and former-Confederate states. That information comprises layer one which had a total of 55 hits in the entire Christian Recorder wanted ads database from February 1865 to June 1866. Layer two of this data, illustrated by ‘yellow stars’, represents the ads where the month and year of ad placement were significant- within five or six months- to the time the state ratified the Thirteenth Amendment. For example: on February 3, 1866 an unknown male placed an ad looking for Henry Collins. This man listed his address as Princeton, New Jersey—a State that ratified the Thirteenth Amendment on January 23, 1866.   Allowing for some time for communication, or over seasons like winter, I found the total result of this database to be 18 significant hits of 55 or roughly 33 percent of all ads placed during this time coincide with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment.

Similarly, the second map looks at ads placed during the second timeline for ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, July 1866 to June 1869, and excludes outliers like Texas and Mississippi who did not ratify until 1870. Strictly speaking, the timeframe that the amendment took to be ratified took much longer; therefore, layer one, which records all ads from the Christian Recorder from the aforementioned time period lists 84 ‘hits’ for ads placed from individuals listing their address in border or former-Confederate state—roughly 30 more than all ads placed for the Thirteenth Amendment. More significantly, however, is layer two which is, again, illustrated by ‘yellow stars’. This layer records fourteen individual ‘hits’ of ads placed at a date very near- five to six months- ratification date of the state listed by the advertiser. For Example on November 28, 1868 Alice Mitchell posted an ad for her mother, Polly Clark. Alice Mitchell listed her address in Glenville, Barbour County, Alabama—a state where the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified on July 13, 1868. Again allowing for some margin of communication and seasonality I found the total result of the two layers for this database to be 14 significant ‘hits’ from a total of 84, or roughly 17 percent of all ads placed during these years to coincide with the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment. Geographically, these ads are more spaced out than ‘layer two’ of the Thirteenth Amendment map and show coinciding trends in New Jersey, Washington D.C., Virginia, and the Deep South. Perhaps with more data this geographic information could be more insightful.

These numbers, 33 and 17 percent, certainly do not represent the type of ‘smoking gun’ for which historians and researchers aiming to publish books and peer-review articles would look. The overall sample size of 700 ads, though it took a team of graduate students half a semester to fully transcribe into a digestible document, is far too small a collection of ads, and other databases would have to be created from similar newspapers and publications from Civil War and Reconstruction periods. Although this project shows empirically that roughly 33 percent of ads posted around the ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment and 17 percent of ads posted around the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment appear significant to the original question and hypothesis this project was likely never going to fully draw a parallel between the thought processes of free blacks looking to rebuild communities in the former-Confederacy and border states and the importance or trust in the federal government to guarantee the rights and liberties which had been so viciously fought for over from 1861 to 1865. I hope this project will inspire other researchers, particularly those looking at contraband camps and the rebuilding of black communities after the war, to continue exploring newspaper wanted ads and the window to the past they offer.



For More Information:

National Trust for Historic Preservation: The Forgotten- The Contraband of America and the Road to Freedom

 National Park Service: Living Contraband- Former Slaves in the Nation’s Capital during the Civil War

The Christian Recorder

 Our Documents 13th Amendment

 Our Documents 14th Amendment

Our Documents 15th Amendment. History: Reconstruction

National Humanities Center: Emancipation, 1864-1865

List of States in Order of Ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment

List of States in Order of Ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment

PBS: Slavery by another Name- Black Codes and Pig Laws

History, Art and Archives: The United States House of Representatives, “Historical Highlights: the Civil Rights Bill of 1866”

Textual Indicators in the The Christian Recorder Ads

Slavery and the Civil War took a massive toll on African American families, who were often separated and scattered with little means to reunite.  After Emancipation in 1862, many people tried to track down lost relatives by placing Information Wanted ads in African American newspapers such as the Christian RecorderOur Digital History class transcribed a collection of these ads from papers published Dec, 1863 to Jun, 1869 and created a database with this material.  The Information Wanted ads generally ran for one issue, unless the advertiser paid for additional printings in a series of papers.  The ads vary in detail and length, and I saw a set of three questions rise from the collection as I worked with the database: Who was placing the ads? Where were they from? What were they saying? By filtering the textual information in the gathered data set, I saw some trends emerge in the numbers that answer these questions and supply supporting evidence for the state of African American literacy, particularly in the North.  The language in the original ads and the ads themselves may also demonstrate a reaction to major events that unfolded during Reconstruction.


To present my analysis for my first two questions, I decided visualization tools would work best for demonstrating the data. I first uploaded the Excel spreadsheet to Google Fusion Tables and using the filters in this tool to sort the data, I was able to see some emerging trends. I attempted to generate some demographic charts in this tool without much success. To accomplish the visualizations, I uploaded the data to a different free tool, Online Chart Tool, which easily generated the graphs I required. For my third question regarding the language of the advertisements, I selected three sample sets of transcribed texts from the Information Wanted ads, gathered from Accessible Archives, to run further analysis, using Voyant Tools.  I learned the following:

Who was placing the ads and where were they from?

Advertiser Gender

As shown, in our data set only a slight majority of the people posting the ads was male. This relatively even proportion is surprising, given, as Eric Gardner states, “If we omitted the large group of soldier-subscribers and those remaining unidentified, we could posit that the average Recorder subscriber was a married black man in his early 40s living in the Northeast, with significant church ties and children, and likely in the working class even if he held property.”  However, in his analysis of who the subscribers to the Christian Recorder were [1], Gardner also acknowledges that, “Men are somewhat overrepresented, partly because of the difficulty of tracing women’s name changes that accompanied marriages and partly because of other forms of gender bias in nineteenth-century record-keeping…. The number of subscribers represented diverse kinds of readers (and reading) and cannot be assumed to represent the totality of readers, given what we know about reading aloud and other text-sharing practices of the era.”  Readers may not necessarily have been subscribers, thus the advertisers of these Information Wanted ads may not have been subscribers either.  However, these men and women took an active role in supporting the Recorder by selecting it as the publication resource for their advertisement. The Recorder was produced in Philadelphia and had a high subscription rate in the surrounding area. The relative gender balance of those placing Information Wanted ads may have some connection to the location from which most of the ads were requested.

advertisers by state

Almost a third of the searches in our data set came from Pennsylvania, and of the advertisements with addresses provided, 105 of them were located in Philadelphia. Over two-thirds of the advertisers were located in northern free states.  As in other cities in the North at this time, African American literacy rates were significantly higher than in rural areas or in southern states. Given the strong presence of Quakers in Southeastern PA and their well-established tradition of schooling based on the principle of educating all people regardless of color or gender, more African Americans, including women, in this region were likely have been literate for generations and possess some financial means to place an ad in the newspaper.  Gardner states, “Recorder subscribers and black reading public crossed class boundaries much more than previous scholars thought.” I suggest that this data shows that readers of the Recorder also frequently crossed assumed gender boundaries as well. To conclude, the majority of the advertisers were African American men and women located in free states, most of whom possessed a basic or higher level of education.

So what did the texts of these ads demonstrate about the advertisers?

Considering the vast changes to African American rights in the 1860’s, in this questions I specifically was thinking about how the frequency of ads placed and the textual language of the ads might have changed over span of the data set. I needed to explore the data beyond what the spreadsheet showed, so I elected to transcribe sample sets of the actual ads. Based on when they were printed, I selected three sets of 20 Information Wanted ads from the data our class gathered and copied and pasted the text from Accessible Archives into a Word document, where I pooled the ads into each corpus, early, middle, and late, for analysis.

The first group of ads represents early ad text from December 1863- July 1865. The second group of middle ads is gathered from January 1866 to March 1866.  It should be noted that the time span for this group is significantly shorter than the first group, as the frequency of ads placed had more than tripled.  The last group of 20 ads is from the end of the data set, covering February to June of 1869.  I looked at the frequency trends for certain key words across the three groups and created the word cloud representations featured below. For all three text groups I filtered out generic stop words, plus one additional omnipresent term, “information.” I also considered blocking the word whereabouts, which is predominant in all three groups, but the term did not occur in every ad in the data set. Additionally, it suggests an ongoing specific desire to know location in addition to state of health and well-being, so I included it in the textual analysis.

The total number of words in my sample groups did not differ much: the first group had a total of 1389, the second had a sum of 1404 words, and the last group has the fewest words, 1244. The key terms I chose to consider across all three groups were sold, left, and taken. I selected these terms based on the prevailing reasons for family separation (if provided in the ads) according to the entire database, as represented here:

Reason for Separation

The transcriptions for the earlier ads feature a much higher occurrence, 13 times, of the word left, in comparison with the other two groups of ads. The word sold appears 3 times and taken appears once in the first group of 20.  In thinking about the connotation of each term, left is more vague and hints a possible reluctance to divulge too much information regarding movement of current or former slaves, even after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which was not initially well received by many governing bodies. Slavery was still legal at the time these ads were printed, and the war was not officially over until April, 1865. Also, the prevalence of the terms years (12 times) also suggests that these separations in the early ads were not recent occurrences.

Text analysis cloud for 20 ads spanning from December 1863 to July 1865

Text analysis cloud for 20 ads spanning from December 1863 to July 1865

Full access to the tools and the corpus of the first 20 ads can be found here.

The middle 20 sample is drawn from ads printed 1866, which saw the greatest number of searches in the entire data set. Why might this be? 1865 and 1866 marked significant changes in law and social policy.  The 13th Amendment was enacted in January 1865, and over the course of that year, the number of searches in the Christian Recorder jumped from 13 to 111.  The federal government was also in the process of passing the Civil Rights Act of 1866, which became law in early April. In 1866, the number of ads more than doubled from 1865’s total, peaking 250 individual searches. During the transcription process, I noticed that the March 1866 issues of the Recorder featured more than twice as many Information Wanted ads compared to the other issues used in the other two data sets. This spike in advertisements coincides with the overturning of President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the civil rights bill by two-thirds majority in Congress.

Years bar

In the sample set from 1866, shown below, the word taken appears once. Sold appears 5 times, which is a slight increase. However, Left is used only twice and does not appear on the word cloud.  Another term used in reference to slavery, belonged is used 4 times.  These occurrences suggest that the advertisers in 1866 were becoming more open about specific details in regards to the people they were searching for.  In this middle set of texts, confidence and hope for recovery and reunion seemed to be increasing.

mid 20

Text analysis cloud for 20 ads placed during 1866, the peak year for searches.

Full access to the tools and the corpus of the middle 20 ads can be found here:

The last 20 ads marks significant increases in key terms: sold appears 10 times, taken appears 4 times, and left is used twice -in conjunction with military service.  In the last group, requests for ministers to read the ad for their congregations increases, with the word ministers appearing 9 times and congregations occurring 5 times.  Another prominent word of note in this cloud, address, saw a steady rise in use from just twice in the early group, to 7 times in the middle group, and 13 times in the late group of ads.  This may indicate that African Americans were better able to settle at an established address as the decade wore on, suggesting that the quality of life and social standings were on the rise for African Americans in the North during Reconstruction.

Text analysis of the last 20 ads from our data set, spanning February to June of 1869.

Text analysis of the last 20 ads from our data set, spanning February to June of 1869.

Full access to the tools and the corpus of the last 20 ads can be found here.

To conclude, the Information Wanted ads in the Christian Recorder supply valuable indicators of the progress of African American life during the decade of emancipation. The texts of these ads form an unusual collection of individually authored voices reaching out across a broad geographic region, and they resonate with personal experiences of the abolition of slavery and the beginning of Reconstruction.  The Christian Recorder was not the only African American publication to print Information Wanted ads, so this can be viewed as a representative example of a larger movement toward literacy and autonomy for blacks in the United States.

 Cited Resources:

[1] Eric Gardner. “Remembered (Black) Readers: Subscribers to the Christian Recorder, 1864–1865.” American Literary History 23, no. 2 (2011): 229-259. (accessed July 31, 2014).




Evolution of Language in Information Wanted Ads


Information wanted ads in The Christian Recorder were seen by people all over the United States, therefore it was imperative for the wording of the ads to be coherent to all sorts of people.  Many of the people who wrote and read the ads were illiterate because they were former slaves who were not given the chance to have a formal education.  Even without a formal education, he language that was used in the information ads in The Christian Recorder evolved over the years that we examined in our data analysis (1864-1869).  In order to examine the language in the ads, I used a word analysis program (voyant) to highlight the key words of the ads in each year.  Immediately after making the word clouds, I found that location words were consistent throughout every visualization.  This prompted me to make pie charts of the advertisers’ cities in each year to see if the prominent location words in the visualizations were the same as the cities that the advertisers were from.  Some of the years also had major words that had to be examined further by charts and/or more research. 

1864 Analysis

The first year (1864) was analyzed by putting every ad in the voyant tool and looking at the visualization to see the words that were most prominent in 1864.  This word visualization is pictured below:


The word that was used the most was information.  This is no surprise because most of the ads said “information wanted of…” in the beginning.  Other words that appear frequently are names of people, these names were common for the period.  The relationships that are highlighted in the visualization are brother(s) and family.  From the word visualization a conclusion can be drawn that brothers were mostly being searched for in 1864.  Finally, some of the words that are prominent are locations.  By using the visualization it was seem that most of the ads were placed in, or looking for people in Philadelphia, Virginia (VA), Brooklyn, and Baltimore. 

I created a pie chart (below) to analyze the cities that the advertisers were from in 1864 and found that Brooklyn and Baltimore were prominent cities.  Portsmouth, Virginia was also a city that a lot of advertisers were from in 1864.  Comparing the information from the pie chart to the word visualization shows that the cities that the advertisers were from were the cities that were highlighted.  The only city that was not represented by the advertiser city was Philadelphia.  The explanation for Philadelphia in the highlighted position was because The Christian Recorder was published in Philadelphia, therefore the city was mentioned in most of the ads.   1864 chart

1865 Analysis

In 1865, the US Civil War ended.  This resulted in an exponential increase in information wanted ads in The Christian Recorder.  The end of the war also brought a change to the language that was used in the ads.  In the previous year there was little to no mention of slavery.  Even though the word slavery or slave is not specifically mentioned in the 1865 ads, words like “sold” and “owned” were highlighted in the word visualization (below).


The word visualization also highlights the word “years” which focuses on the amount of time that the advertiser and searchee have been separated.  The graph below shows the amount of years that people have been apart according to the data that was analyzed from all of The Christian Recorder information wanted ads from 1864 to 1869.  The graph shows that an overwhelming majorities of people have been separated for four or more years.


Like the 1864 word visualization, 1865 also shows locations as key words.  According to the word visualization, the cities that were mentioned were from a larger area than the cities in 1864.  The locations in the word cloud are:  Virginia, Charleston, Tennessee, Winchester, and Richmond. My hypothesis would be that the cities the advertisers were advertising from would be comparable like they were in 1864.  Unfortunately, that is not the case when the word cloud is compared to a pie chart of advertisers cities in 1865.


The major places that are shown in the word cloud are not a major part of the cities that the advertisers were from.  However, the location data from the visualization is correct by showing that the locations were much more broad than they were the year before.  The pie chart is cluttered with many different cities that the advertisers were from, unlike the chart from 1864 which only included a few east coast cities. The probable reasoning for the increase in the amount of cities mentioned in the word cloud and the pie chart are most likely because the war had ended so African Americans were searching more and more for loved ones that had been separated because of war.

1866 Analysis

The word cloud that examines the ads from 1866 has many of the same words as the previous ads.  The content of the ads does not change because the content does not change.  This word cloud also highlights words that have to deal with slavery, more so than the words of 1865 with the addition of the word “belonged.”  It seems as though the further away from the war the ads are, it is more likely for the advertisers to mention slavery status.  The 1866 word cloud also highlights more familial relationships like “mother,” “brother,” “husband,” and “children.”  The importance of the relationships between people also seem to be more profound after the war, possibly to get the sympathy of the reader by making them think of their own family.


The 1866 word cloud does not have as many location words highlighted as the 1865 cloud.  This most likely means that there were many cities that were mentioned.  No city or cities particularly stood out in having the majority.  When analyzing the data of the cities that the advertisers were from in a pie chart, it shows that the theory of many cities is correct.

1866 chart

The only city that has a slight majority on the pie chart is Philadelphia.  Like 1865, this most likely is because The Christian Recorder was published in Philadelphia.

1867  Analysis

Like the previous ads the content is very similar.  However, the words “ministers” and “congregations” are highlighted in this word cloud.  In the previous word clouds there was no mention of religion, but it is prominent in this visualization.  These advertisements were during a Great Awakening movement in the United States that especially included African Americans.  In the post-war United States the African Methodist Episcopal Church (A.M.E.) gained a lot of members.  Since a lot of people were joining churches, it was a good way to help find any information.  Some ads ask to be read in church so the ad will be heard by many people and more than the subscriber base of The Christian Recorder.


The location words in this word cloud are more definitive than they were in the previous year.  Philadelphia is once again highlighted as a major city in the word cloud and in the pie chart of 1867.

1867 chart

After looking at the pie chart of the cities that the advertisers were from in 1867, it is seen that Chicago is the second (to Philadelphia) city that is searching for loved ones.  However, there is no mention of Chicago or the state of Illinois in the word cloud.  It is strange that Chicago does not show up on the word visualization, but it was most likely not stated as many times as other words that are highlighted.

1868 Analysis


Although words that suggested slavery had been included in some of the previous word clouds, they are particularly prominent in the 1868 visualization.  Here, the word “sold”is much bigger than it was in any of the previous word clouds, meaning that it was stated more times in the ads from 1868.  In 1868, three years have passed since the end of the Civil War so it becomes increasingly acceptable to acknowledge that loved ones were sold and taken away from their families. 

It is interesting to note the prominence of female names in this word cloud.  Female names have made an appearance in every year that has been analyzed so far, but never with this much significance.  When looking at the genders of the advertisers from 1864-1869, it appears that there is an almost even split between males and females.  By using the gender pie chart and comparing it to the word clouds, one can see that there is a fairly even amount of male and female names that appear in the word cloud.


The location words for 1868 that appear in the word cloud are very focused on the east coast, like “Philadelphia,” “VA” (Virginia), and “N.J.” (New Jersey).


The pie chart shows that 1868 was pretty evenly split between cities on the east coast.  In previous years there seems to be representation from people further west placing ads.  I am not sure why the locations of advertisements placed in 1868 were primarily on the east coast.

1869 Analysis


1869 was the last year that we collected data from The Christian Recorder and was the year that was the furthest away from the Civil War.  This word cloud agrees with the hypotheses from the previous data collection because more of an emphasis is placed on words about slavery and religion.  This word cloud also shows the prominence of Philadelphia very clearly.


In the pie chart for 1869, 43% of the advertisers were from Philadelphia.  It seems as though as time goes the ads were located in and around Philadelphia.


For the most part the wording of the ads stay the same from 1864 to 1869 because the content is the same.  Words like “information,” “thankfully,” and “received” show up on every word cloud prominently.  However, the language of the ads definitely changes from 1864 to 1869 specifically when talking about slavery and religion.  I thought that it was interesting that the words “slavery” and “religion” were never specifically stated in the ads they were just talked about using different wording.  Finally, by comparing location words and pie charts of advertisers cities it is easy to analyze the important cities for the ads.  In my own analysis of the locations, it seems that Philadelphia and the east coast are always prominent places.  In the earlier years there is more evidence of The Christian Recorder reaching people outside of the east coast region, by that dissipates by 1869.

This data would be useful when looking at the evolution of language in the information wanted ads.  It would be interesting to compare the advertisers literacy rate throughout the years to see if the inclusion of words related to slavery and religion that appear in later years have a correlation with literacy. 





Mapping Geography and Gender in ‘The Christian Recorder’

During my contributions to the Christian Recorder “Information Wanted” project, I began to wonder about the demographic information involved. So frequently with primary sources, the analysis done by researchers and historians becomes focused almost entirely along certain lines: facts, figures, and statistics, or the (typically) individualized narratives of the persons involved in the events themselves or else in their documentation.

There is no necessary or intentional divide, per se, between these two approaches to data. My hope was to keep this unified perspective in mind as I went forward with my own uses of our collected information. What emerged from my reading of the data sets was a picture of community, scattered and subdivided across various states and territories. They were separated – and indeed the entire notion of the “Information Wanted” columns was a deliberate response to the separation of individuals from their larger groups, typically families. But by using a rapidly-expanding system of communication – the printed periodical –  black Americans, now confronted with their potential roles as citizens and free members of a largely hostile society, could attempt to reach across great spaces to reunite with their fellows and families. As they did so, these communities would simultaneously be developing a system of gendered roles and expected norms for its members. These performances of accepted behaviors would in turn have an effect upon the readership and authorship of The Christian Recorder‘s “Information Wanted” advertisements.

To begin, then, I asked: How much of the geographical spread of interested persons demonstrated within these maps the result of the 19th century’s expansion of print mass media and travel technologies? As I discussed in a previous post, the potential audiences for newspapers, newsletters, and magazines had virtually exploded in scope and scale by the time of the advertisements I’ve sampled. Similarly, railroad networks underwent significant growth in both reach and density by the end of the Civil War, enabling goods, news, and people to travel further and faster than ever before. Consequently, and with the end of slavery now guaranteed by law, how many former slaves took advantage not only of their new freedoms but of these cultural and technological changes to seek out missing loved ones?

By writing in to The Christian Recorder and submitting “Information Wanted” notices, they could hope to tap into the readership of one of the most prominent and powerful black community groups in the country. This increasing connectivity between communities and among social and cultural groups prompted me to wonder what a random sampling of advertiser locations from the final months of the Civil War and its immediate aftermath would look like when mapped out according to the information given in their advertisements. To that end, I created my first map:

‘Christian Recorder’ Advertiser Locations

The sample size comes from all “Information Wanted” pieces published between March 1865 and December 1866, pared down to 197 individuals who provided direct contact information, including city and state. The results were intriguing in their concentrations. The density and frequency of advertisements placed by residents of non-slaveholding states is in fact nearly equal to those from states where slavery continued until the Thirteenth Amendment. Further, while dense population centers are well-represented, a significant number of the advertisements come from persons outside major cities. This would indicate that the extensive readership networks upon which these “Information Wanted” pieces hinged were not as centralized as they might at first appear.

Below is a breakdown of the data along state and territory lines. By far the largest state represented in the advertisements was Pennsylvania, which in itself is no great surprise, considering that The Christian Recorder was based in Philadelphia. This data chart, taken together were the map view above, will hopefully bring curious minds into the fold of understanding the connections between the places represented there and the people attempting to reach across the spaces between.



Obviously, this sample is not intended to be exhaustive, nor is it intended as a demonstration of the entire scope of the “Information Wanted” phenomenon, which ran continuously between 1861 and at least 1902. Rather, it represents a picture of the immediate post-emancipation era, and the geography of those in a position to seek out separated family and friends through a growing web of Christian Recorder readership and black church communities.

Geographic dispersion and the (typically) invisible strands of communication are all well and good, of course, and represent an area which remains more or less un-mined of its incredibly interesting and insightful biographic and demographic information. This approach to developing a more rounded understanding of life in the United States for freedpeople in the second half of the 19th century, one utilizing self-assessed data and very descriptive primary sources, could occupy the careers of countless historians and humanist academics. Ideally, it will. However, there is at least one other serious area worthy of intense study using these same sources: gender dynamics in African American communities.

While the 19th century is often (and rightly) described and understood as a period in which women struggled for authority and status within their social positions, personal relationships, and cultural paradigms, there were nonetheless some communities in which these exertions were less fractious. One of the groups was within African-American churches, within which scholars such as Elsa Barkley Brown[1] and Hannah Rosen[2] have argued that women in the immediate post-emancipation period and for some time afterward enjoyed relative gender equity within the communities. This changed over time for a number of reasons (and according to a number of competing theories), but nonetheless it must be understood that women were often allowed significant autonomy of conduct and organization for years within their churches. As the primary communication organ of the incredibly popular and influential African Methodist Episcopal Church, The Christian Recorder was no different. To that end, I created a second map from the same sampled data, this time broken down along gender lines.

‘Christian Recorder’ Advertiser Genders

Of the advertisers included in my sample, ninety-two were women. Compared to eighty-seven men and four advertisers with an indeterminate gender, this data seems to bear out the notion that women were more likely to attempt to reunite their families, arguably as an extension of the traditional authority of women over the domestic sphere.

What is surprising, then, is not the preponderance of female advertisers, but the comparative balance between men and women within this sample. I would be extremely interested to see the conclusions drawn by a more intensive and long-term research project which could analyze the “Information Wanted” advertisements through the end of the century and track the gender ratio over several decades.

The Tech Portion of the Show

So, having laid out the theoretical side of this project and my motivations in approaching it in the way I have, it seems a good idea to discuss the technical aspects. I used the immensely useful and easy-to-use BatchGeo program. A free service for relatively small projects, BatchGeo simply requires a user to input their collated data into the program, set the appropriate graphing options as desired, and then like glorious digital-humanist magic, a map is produced using GoogleMaps. This map is hosted by BatchGeo, with both public and private display options. I elected to host my information publically, in the hope that someone someday may find it interested, if not entirely useful.

I would recommend BatchGeo for the digital novice, or for those otherwise pressed for time or technical know-how. I found it immensely useful, even with its rather narrow data limits. The functionality is excellent, and for a free service with an approachable interface, this is absolutely nothing to sneeze at.


As I’ve hinted throughout this piece, my work is at best a brief introduction to the ideas I’ve put forth. There remains an enormous amount of data to process within the annals of The Christian Recorder. My hope in writing this is to spark interest in the roles of concepts such as geography and gender in the discussion of larger topics within social history of the 19th century. These two are not the only useful or intriguing lenses through which to view primary sources, of course, merely to two which struck me most definitively in my reading. There remains, as always, a great deal of difficult and rewarding work ahead of we historians, but armed with powerful new digital tools and a willingness to use them innovatively, our labors can at least be more stimulating than ever.


[1] Elsa Barkley Brown. “Negotiating and Transforming the Public Sphere: African American Political Life in the Transition from Slavery to Freedom.” Public Culture 7 (Fall 1994): 107-46.

[2] Hannah Rosen. Terror in the Heart of Freedom: Citizenship, Sexual Violence, and the Meaning of Race in the Postemancipation South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.